Friday, August 31, 2007

GAIL COLLINS: And on the 4th Day, They Voted


It’s time for the 23rd debate in the Fifth Congressional District Democratic primary campaign! Or perhaps the 22nd. Everyone seems to have lost count, but we can definitely say that if the candidates were puppies, somebody would have been arrested for cruelty.

“We are ready to rock!” says the moderator.

Actually, the candidates look like they’re ready to collapse. This primary — an almost sure ticket to a safe Congressional seat — is going to be held on the day after Labor Day. There is an old saying that the only people who show up for special elections are the kind of compulsive voters who would turn out in a hurricane. For this one, they’re going to be down to the folks who would go to the polls even if God scheduled the Rapture.

The election date is due to timetables the Democrats set up in 2004, when they were looking forward to the triumph of a president-elect from Massachusetts and trying to make sure Mitt Romney would not win the newly opened Senate seat. To summarize: Like most undesirable political developments, this can be blamed on John Kerry.

Nobody here needs to be jealous of the attention voters get in Iowa and New Hampshire. If you were a resident of Lowell or Lawrence and expressed a willingness to show up and vote on the day after Labor Day, you could get any one of five Democrats to volunteer to drive you to the polls, bring you back home, cook your breakfast and tutor your oldest child for the S.A.T.’s.

Massachusetts has only sent three women to Congress since the dawn of time, and the most interesting thing about this race is that the two leading candidates are Eileen Donoghue, the former mayor of Lowell, and Niki Tsongas, the widow of Paul Tsongas, the beloved former congressman, senator and presidential candidate who died of cancer a little over a decade ago.

When Paul Tsongas won the New Hampshire primary in 1992, all the Democratic candidate wives were lawyers. At the time, that seemed to be a significant factoid — a sign that women who married politicians were beginning to carve out their own lives apart from the supportive spouse role. Back in 1985, when she was just starting law school, Niki Tsongas told The Washington Post that the old model of “wives who are very involved” with their husbands’ Congressional activities made her uncomfortable. “I guess I was just too proud. I felt whatever I chose to do I’d have to do it separate from what Paul did,” she added.

Now we seem to have a Third Way — the partner-spouse who is both liberated and completely engaged in her husband’s work. In this campaign, Tsongas calls her husband’s political career “a shared experience.” Once, in a slip of the tongue, she told voters from the district that she had “represented it in Washington for 10 years.”

The debate gets around to the question of Tsongas’s qualifications pretty quickly, since there is not a whit of serious policy disagreement among the major candidates. (Donoghue has a TV commercial pointing out that while Tsongas’s Iraq policy is to end the war and take care of veterans, hers involves ending the war and a specific plan to take care of veterans.)

Inevitably, Donoghue read The Washington Post story.

“That was 25 years ago,” snapped Tsongas.

Either woman would undoubtedly do fine in Congress. (Vote on the day after Labor Day! The stakes are low!) But you can understand Donoghue’s frustration. Paul Tsongas recruited her to run for the Lowell City Council. She has put in nearly 12 years, four as mayor, and Lowell is looking pretty good, its downtown speckled with art galleries and coffee shops that lend the former mill town a fragile panache. Now, she’s running against someone who wants to revert to the old tradition in which the only women who ever got to go to Congress were the widows of former incumbents.

On a recent Sunday morning, right after a Boston television station aired what was possibly the 21st candidate debate, Donoghue was out distributing campaign literature. A man and a woman, she said, came power-walking past her. “Then the woman turned around and came back to me and said: ‘I was on the fence. But after I watched this morning’s debate, I think you’re ready for Congress. And I don’t think she is.’ ”

That cheered Donoghue up immensely. To win an election that arrives on the heels of a three-day weekend, you’re going to need either a large number of relatives or just the kind of people who like to begin their Sunday mornings with the viewing of a debate, followed by a brisk power-walk.

Correction: The Larry Kudlow interview mentioned in Thursday’s column was on CNBC, not MSNBC. Also, when it is 3 p.m. in India, its neighbor Nepal believes it to be 3:15, not 3:45 as I wrote on Aug. 23.

BOB HERBERT: Anxious About Tomorrow

You know you’ve stepped into a different universe when you hear a major American labor leader saying matter-of-factly that employer-based health insurance and employer-based pensions are relics of a bygone industrial economy.

Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, which has 1.9 million members and is the fastest-growing union in the country, is not your ordinary union leader. With Labor Day approaching, he was reflecting on some of the challenges facing workers in a post-20th-century globalized economy.

“I just don’t think that as a country we’ve conceptualized that this is not our father’s or our grandfather’s economy,” Mr. Stern said in an interview. “We’re going through profound change and we have no plan.”

The feeling that seems to override all others for workers is anxiety. American families, already saddled with enormous debt, are trying to make it in an environment in which employment is becoming increasingly contingent and subject to worldwide competition. Health insurance, unaffordable for millions, is a huge problem. And guaranteed pensions are going the way of typewriter ribbons and carbon paper.

“We’re ending defined benefit pensions in front of our eyes,” said Mr. Stern. “I’d say today’s retirement plan for young workers is: ‘I’m going to work until I die.’ ”

The result of all of this — along with such problems as the mortgage and housing crisis, and a domestic economy that is doing nothing to improve living standards for ordinary Americans — is fear.

“Workers are incredibly, legitimately scared that the American dream, particularly the belief that their kids will do better, is ending,” said Mr. Stern. He is trying to get across the idea that in a period of such profound change, the old templates, the traditional ideas and policies of even the most progressive thinkers and officeholders, will not be sufficient to meet the new challenges.

“We can’t be the only country on earth that asks our employers to put the price of health care on its products when a lot of our competitors don’t,” he said. “And job security? Even if you want to stay with your employer, as in the old economic model, we’re seeing in many industries that your employer is not going to be around to stay with you.”

A comprehensive new approach is needed, but what should that approach be? Franklin Roosevelt always hoped to inject a measure of economic security into the lives of ordinary Americans. But the New Deal was seven decades ago. Workers are insecure now for a host of different reasons and Mr. Stern wants the labor movement to be part of a vast cooperative effort to develop the solutions appropriate to today’s environment.

He told me, “I’d like to say to the Democrats that we are as far today from the New Deal as the New Deal was from the Civil War.”

He wants more people to pay attention to the big issues that affect not just union workers but all working families: How do you bring health care to all? What do you do about retirement security? How will the jobs of the 21st century be created?

And what about schools, energy, global warming, the environment?

Mr. Stern tends to see the nation as a team and wants the team to pull together to develop a creative vision of what the U.S. should be about in the 21st century. A cornerstone of that vision, he said, should be adherence to the “primary value” of rewarding work.

“We’re a team in the 21st-century period of rapid change and competition,” he said. “And right now, we don’t have leadership, and we don’t have a plan. At the same time, a group of people are enriching themselves far beyond anything that’s reasonable.”

What he would like to see, he said, is a large group of thoughtful people from various walks of American life — business, labor, government, academia and so forth — convened to begin the serious work of cooperatively developing a real-world vision of a society that is fairer, healthier, better educated, better prepared to compete globally, and more economically secure.

“I think you’re already seeing the beginnings of odd formations of people who appreciate, issue by issue, that we have to do something different here,” he said.

The kind of effort Mr. Stern would like to see would logically be initiated at the highest levels of government, preferably the White House. But if that’s not in the cards, someone else should take up the challenge. And there should be a sense of urgency about it.

The fears of America’s workers are well founded. “There’s something wrong with the system right now,” said Mr. Stern, “and we can’t just say, ‘Well, it’s all going to work out.’ It’s not.”

How Conservatives and Gays Can Get Along

Writing at the blog of the Independent Gay Forum, Jonathan Rauch (the author of “Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America”) links to an op-ed by Steve Lonegan, the Republican mayor of Bogota, N.J., that was published August 19 in The Record.

< style="font-family: verdana;">Rauch excerpts part of Lonegan’s op-ed:

Historically, gay Americans have struggled for the freedom to live their lives the way they choose in order to pursue happiness. This is the American Dream, the cornerstone of conservative thinking, and it is these principles that make the increasingly influential gay community the conservative movement’s natural ally.

Rauch comments, “Sadly, it is just about impossible to imagine any nationally prominent Republican, gay or straight, make that statement ­as opposed to the kind of statement Sen. Larry Craig made (‘I am not gay’).”

Lonegan’s op-ed was written in response to “the passing of a constituent, friend and fellow conservative who also happened to be gay.” In it, he proposes a bargain to be struck among religious conservatives and gay Americans: “Gays shouldn’t expect government to foist acceptance of their lifestyle on others; religious conservatives shouldn’t expect gays to abandon an integral part of their being.” Lonegan also writes:

Barry Goldwater once remarked that government cannot pass laws to “make people like each other.” His words still ring true today. Labeling people “homophobes” or “bigots” if they refuse to accept the entire gay agenda creates political fractures that work against individual liberties and serve to keep gay voters in the Democratic Party’s political ghetto.

The Republican Party must reestablish its commitment to the rights of the individual while respecting the moral code of one subset and upholding the freedom of another.

Chris Suellentrop


The ‘He Never Proposed’ Defense

Conservatives have begun making a few limited defenses of Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho. Writing at The Corner, National Review’s staff blog, Jonah Goldberg says “Craig’s (alleged) behavior is terrible” but not hypocritical, despite the senator’s voting record on gay marriage and other issues. Goldberg writes:

I’d like someone to walk very slowly through the argument that it’s hypocritical to A) indulge in anonymous gay sex in seedy locations and B) oppose gay marriage. Last I checked, the common definition of hypocrisy involves saying one thing and doing another. Well, Craig wasn’t trying to marry anybody in stall #3 was he?

Goldberg adds, “That being anti-gay marriage and anti-gay are synonymous is a entirely a political argument that people are confusing for a philosophical truth.”

The real hypocrites in this scandal are the Republican senators who have called for Craig’s resignation but not for the resignation of Sen. David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, who admitted to using the services of an escort: “from any social-conservative calculus (or at least my social-conservative calculus) prostitution has to be considered a greater social evil than cruising for gay sex in bathrooms,” Douthat writes.

Douthat criticizes “the unfortunate extent to which socially-conservative politicians have focused their fire on gays, because opposing gay rights was for a long time an 80-20 issue for the Right (though no longer), while studiously ignoring the various beams in heterosexuals’ eyes.”

Douthat concludes that “[i]t’s a hard pattern to break, but the G.O.P. could find worse places to start than making sure that Vitter shares whatever political fate awaits Larry Craig.”

Chris Suellentrop

Friday's Sex News (08-31-07)

Sex Makes you Beautiful (2007-08-31)
Not necessarily a statement, but the headline refers to the name of sex guide published in Japan for women

Shooting ping-pong balls from vaginas (2007-08-31)
Journalist Mara Altman recounts her sexual encounters in India

China's penis restaurant (2007-08-31)
The Guolizhuang restaurant in Beijing claims to be country's only speciality penis restaurant, including donkey and snake

Porn Bush: we are not amused (2007-08-31)
A portrait of President George W. Bush is made from cuttings from pornographic magazines, and is on display in London

We need men! (2007-08-31)
Girls from St Luke's Arts and Drama Society have posed nude in an attempt to attract more men to their group

Stonington's Teacher of the Year leaves his comfort zone (2007-08-31)
Stonington Teacher of the Year Tim Flanagan speaks during Thursday's program at the high school cafeteria.

Sex? Yes, please (2007-08-31)
Our sex life started off hot and heavy and was consistant for awhile, until now.

Study finds sex life suffers with sneezes (2007-08-31)
EMPLOYERS are preparing for an onslaught of hayfever sick days as spring approaches, but a new study shows it is people's sex lives that really suffer when the sneezing begins.

New Book: The Macho, Homophobic World Of Adolescent Boys; Harassment, Predatory Behavior (2007-08-31)
University of California, Berkeley - Researcher Cheri Jo Pascoe spent a year and a half hanging out in a high-school weight room, auto shop, and drama class, and she learned what frightens adolescent males ...

Love hotels not just for 'love' (2007-08-31)
Long associated with seedy red light districts, sleaze and sex, Japan's love hotels are growing up to be socially acceptable and even classy, says the author of a new book on the subject.

Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt Sex: Pregnancy Turn-On, Heated Up Sex Life (2007-08-31)
Brad Pitt was really turned on by Angelina Jolie when she was pregnant. The 'Tomb Raider' star - who gave birth to the couple's daughter Shiloh in Namibia last May - has revealed the pregnancy did wonders for ...

Same-sex video is pulled in Evesham ... (2007-08-31)
Posted on 08/31/2007 6:22:57 AM PDT by IrishMike The Evesham school board last night voted 7-1 to stop showing third graders a controversial educational video that includes depictions of families headed by ...

Kids getting hooked to booze: Study (2007-08-31)
A review study has found that kids have started drinking even when they are as young as 9-years old.

Gotta Have It: Birth Control for Nursing Mamas (2007-08-31)
We love it because it's available over-the-counter , and also because we don't have to stress about remembering to pop a pill every day.

VIDEO: Lord of the Rings Film Star Ian McKellen Admits to Ripping Out Hotel Bible Sections Aga... (2007-08-31)
... and was a staunch defender of traditional Catholic teaching on sexual morality. Tolkien's thoughts on human sexuality are most clearly represented in his personal writings. In Tolkein's letter to his then-21 year old son Michael, he warned that ...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Free Democracy

"Redacted" stuns Venice

VENICE (Reuters) - A new film about the real-life rape and killing of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by U.S. soldiers who also murdered her family stunned the Venice festival, with shocking images that left some viewers in tears.

"Redacted", by U.S. director Brian De Palma, is one of at least eight American films on the war in Iraq due for release in the next few months and the first of two movies on the conflict screening in Venice's main competition.

Inspired by one of the most serious crimes committed by American soldiers in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, it is a harrowing indictment of the conflict and spares the audience no brutality to get its message across.

De Palma, 66, whose "Casualties of War" in 1989 told a similar tale of abuse by American soldiers in Vietnam, makes no secret of the goal he is hoping to achieve with the film's images, all based on real material he found on the Internet.

"The movie is an attempt to bring the reality of what is happening in Iraq to the American people," he told reporters after a press screening.......

Cleared Terror Defendant Sues Prosecutor

DETROIT (AP) - A Moroccan immigrant who was held for three years before his terrorism-related conviction was thrown out has filed a $9 million federal lawsuit against the prosecutor and two others involved in the case.

Karim Koubriti, 28, argues in the lawsuit that former federal prosecutor Richard Convertino violated his civil rights.

Convertino led the government's case in the nation's first major terrorism trial after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He was removed in 2003 after the Justice Department concluded he withheld evidence that could have proved the innocence of the four defendants accused of comprising a Detroit ``sleeper'' terror cell.

Three of the men's convictions were later thrown out after the Justice Department acknowledged its original prosecution was filled with a ``pattern of mistakes and oversights.'' The fourth was acquitted.

Convertino was indicted last year on allegations that he conspired to obstruct justice and lied to a federal judge in connection with case.

His attorney, William Sullivan, had yet to see Koubriti's lawsuit, filed Thursday, but said, ``I have no doubt that it's meritless.''.......

Novak: I Knew It Was You, Fredo

Now he tells us! Seven years after his first meeting with Alberto Gonzales, Robert Novak relays the news that “several Republican senators” believed in 2001 “that Gonzales was not qualified for a senior government position.” Novak writes in his Washington Post column:

I met Gonzales for the first time in 2001 when, along with other conservative journalists, I went to the White House for a background briefing on the new president’s judicial nominations by presidential counsel Gonzales. I was stunned by the incoherence of the briefer. After checking with several Republican senators, I received the same verdict. Their judgment was that Gonzales was not qualified for a senior government position.

Chris Suellentrop


Craig’s Next Move

In its third consecutive daily editorial about Senator Larry Craig, the Idaho Statesman editorial page asks Craig to resign.

“It is difficult and unpleasant to call on Idaho’s senior senator to end a career in public service. We don’t do this casually, or unanimously,” the editorial states. It continues:

However, we cannot abide an elected official who didn’t disclose a lewd conduct arrest until the story broke 77 days later — a lie by omission and a violation of the public trust. We cannot believe Craig can effectively serve Idaho, under the shadow of his guilty plea on a lesser charge of disorderly conduct. We cannot afford, as a state with but four congressional representatives, to have a senator who merely provides fodder for bloggers and late-night talk show hosts.

“Worse still, Craig’s credibility has eroded within the power structure in Washington, D.C.,” the editorial argues, later adding, “He will no longer be a spokesman for his causes, from immigration reform to seeking federal dollars for Idaho projects. He will always be seen — even if no one is so coarse as to say it — as that senator involved in that weird arrest at an airport restroom renowned as a pickup spot for anonymous sex.”

Even if Craig’s public image is now “an incomplete caricature,” by staying in office “he is contemplating a future that just doesn’t exist,” the editorial says. “The longer it takes for him to face the facts, the longer the interests of Idaho are marginalized.”

Craig has responded to the stories about his arrest by “operating from a defensive state of denial,” the editorial says. It adds, “If Craig wishes to keep his secrets, he may do so as a former U.S. senator.”

Chris Suellentrop

More Realism, Less Spin

NYT Editorial

A new report from Congress’s investigative arm provides a powerful fresh dose of nonpartisan realism about Iraq as President Bush tries to spin people into thinking that significant — or at least sufficient — progress is being made. With a crucial debate on Iraq set for next month, the report should be read by members of Congress who may be wavering in the fight with the White House over withdrawing American troops.

The Government Accountability Office, in a draft assessment reported yesterday, determined that Iraq has failed to meet 15 out of 18 benchmarks for political and military progress mandated by Congress. Laws on constitutional reform, oil and permitting former Baathists back into the government have not been enacted. Among other failings, there has been unsatisfactory progress toward deploying three Iraqi brigades in Baghdad and reducing the level of sectarian violence.

These conclusions are in line with a recent National Intelligence Estimate that found that violence in Iraq remained high, terrorists could still mount formidable attacks and the country’s leaders “remain unable to govern effectively.”

Mr. Bush earlier this year ordered a massive buildup of American troops in Iraq in a desperate attempt to salvage his failed strategy and stave off Congressional moves to bring the forces home. Despite the cost of more American lives, he argued that he was buying a period of relative calm for Iraqi politicians to achieve national reconciliation.

The top American officials in Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, are to present their assessments on how calm things are at eagerly awaited Congressional hearings in mid-September. Their findings, and a White House report due Sept. 15, are seen as a potential trigger for a change in Iraq strategy.

Two things, however, are already clear. Iraq’s leaders have neither the intention nor the ability to take advantage of calm, relative or otherwise. And a change in strategy seems the farthest thing from Mr. Bush’s mind.

He used the August vacation — when lawmakers were largely laying low at home — to reassert his determination to stay the course. The White House also let it be known that it plans to ask Congress for more money — perhaps another $50 billion — beyond $600 billion already requested to maintain the counteroffensive in Iraq into spring 2008. Some people think the administration will get it.

The White House tried to discredit the ominous G.A.O. assessment by saying the standards set by Congressional investigators were too high. It may be unrealistic to expect that Iraq’s weak and dysfunctional government could meet all the targets by September, but a serious, conscientious effort across the board was needed, and would be apparent to all.

Mr. Bush has invoked Vietnam to argue against leaving Iraq. That argument is specious, but there is a chilling similarity between the two American foreign policy disasters. In Vietnam, as in Iraq, American presidents and military leaders went to great lengths to pretend that victory was at hand when nothing could be farther from the truth.

Round-up of daily violence -Thursday 30 August 2007

The daily Iraq violence report is compiled by McClatchy Newspapers Special Correspondents in Baghdad from police, military and medical reports. This is not a comprehensive list of all violence in Iraq, much of which goes unreported. It's posted without editing as transmitted to McClachy's Washington Bureau


- Around 9.30 a.m., a roadside bomb was planted on Muhammad Al-Qasim route near Nahdha bus station in downtown Baghdad when police shot at it. It exploded injuring three policemen.

- Around 11.35 a.m., a roadside bomb exploded at Sheikh Omar neighborhood ( north Baghdad)injuring 4 people .

- Around 4 p.m., a roadside bomb exploded at Rafah intersection in Bayaa neighborhood targeted an American patrol . No casualties reported.

- Around 4.30 p.m., a roadside bomb exploded at Bab Al-Muatham killing 1 person and injuring 2 others.

Police found (5)unidentified dead bodies in the following neighborhood in Baghdad : (4) in west Baghdad ( Karkh bank) ;1 in Saidiyah , 1 in Hurriyah ,1 in Bayaa and 1 in Ghazaliyah. While (1) dead body was found in Sleikh in east Baghdad ( Risafa bank).


-Around 1.30 a.m. of Thursday , a gunman riding a motor bike opened fire on Abu Haider Al-Hasnawi ,the head of Najaf oil warehouses , northern Najaf killing him at once.


- Wednesday night , a car bomb exploded at Nida'a neighborhood in downtown Kirkuk killing 3 people and injuring 7 others with four civilian damaged cars.

- Around 10 p.m. of Wednesday night , two gunmen were killed and burned while they were carrying a Katysha missile which exploded at Arafa neighborhood near Hassan Najim mosque before reaching the place planning to hit , Kirkuk police said opening an investigation of the accident and to know who were they and the side they belong to.

- Around 1.45p.m., two roadside bombs targeted a vehicle of the head of Kirkuk police station ( brigadier Burhan Taeeb) injuring one of his guards and damaging the vehicle.

South of Baghdad, U.S. troops find fatigue, frustration

SOUTHEAST OF SALMAN PAK, Iraq — Standing in a small room in the Iraqi home they'd raided an hour earlier, a dozen soldiers from the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division were trading jokes when 1st Sgt. Troy Moore, Company A's senior enlisted man, shouted out.

"We're bringing democracy to Iraq," he called, with obvious sarcasm, as a reporter entered the room. Then Moore began loudly humming the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Within seconds the rest of the troops had joined in, filling the small, barren home in the middle of Iraq with the patriotic chorus of a Civil War-era ballad.

U.S. officials say that security has improved since the Sledgehammer Brigade, as the 3rd Brigade is called, arrived five months ago as part of the 30,000-strong buildup of additional U.S. troops to Iraq and took control of an area 30 miles southeast of Baghdad. The brigade, with 3,800 soldiers, has eight times the number of troops that were in the area before.

Although the soldiers who since spring have walked and ridden through this volatile area mixed with Sunni and Shiite Muslims have seen some signs of progress, they still face the daily threat of roadside bombs, an unreliable Iraqi police force, the limitations of depending on Iraqis for tips and the ever-elusive enemy........

Thursday, August 30, 2007

PAUL KRUGMAN: Katrina All the Time

Two years ago today, Americans watched in horror as a great city drowned, and wondered what had happened to their country. Where was FEMA? Where was the National Guard? Why wasn’t the government of the world’s richest, most powerful nation coming to the aid of its own citizens?

What we mostly saw on TV was the nightmarish scene at the Superdome, but things were even worse at the New Orleans convention center, where thousands were stranded without food or water. The levees were breached Monday morning — but as late as Thursday evening, The Washington Post reported, the convention center “still had no visible government presence,” while “corpses lay out in the open among wailing babies and other refugees.”

Meanwhile, federal officials were oblivious. “We are extremely pleased with the response that every element of the federal government, all of our federal partners, have made to this terrible tragedy,” declared Michael Chertoff, the secretary for Homeland Security, on Wednesday. When asked the next day about the situation at the convention center, he dismissed the reports as “a rumor” or “someone’s anecdotal version.”

Today, much of the Gulf Coast remains in ruins. Less than half the federal money set aside for rebuilding, as opposed to emergency relief, has actually been spent, in part because the Bush administration refused to waive the requirement that local governments put up matching funds for recovery projects — an impossible burden for communities whose tax bases have literally been washed away.

On the other hand, generous investment tax breaks, supposedly designed to spur recovery in the disaster area, have been used to build luxury condominiums near the University of Alabama’s football stadium in Tuscaloosa, 200 miles inland.

But why should we be surprised by any of this? The Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina — the mixture of neglect of those in need, obliviousness to their plight, and self-congratulation in the face of abject failure — has become standard operating procedure. These days, it’s Katrina all the time.

Consider the White House reaction to new Census data on income, poverty and health insurance. By any normal standard, this week’s report was a devastating indictment of the administration’s policies. After all, last year the administration insisted that the economy was booming — and whined that it wasn’t getting enough credit. What the data show, however, is that 2006, while a good year for the wealthy, brought only a slight decline in the poverty rate and a modest rise in median income, with most Americans still considerably worse off than they were before President Bush took office.

Most disturbing of all, the number of Americans without health insurance jumped. At this point, there are 47 million uninsured people in this country, 8.5 million more than there were in 2000. Mr. Bush may think that being uninsured is no big deal — “you just go to an emergency room” — but the reality is that if you’re uninsured every illness is a catastrophe, your own private Katrina.

Yet the White House press release on the report declared that President Bush was “pleased” with the new numbers. Heckuva job, economy!

Mr. Bush’s only concession that something might be amiss was to say that “challenges remain in reducing the number of uninsured Americans” — a statement reminiscent of Emperor Hirohito’s famous admission, in his surrender broadcast, that “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.” And Mr. Bush’s solution — more tax cuts, of course — has about as much relevance to the real needs of the uninsured as subsidies for luxury condos in Tuscaloosa have to the needs of New Orleans’s Ninth Ward.

The question is whether any of this will change when Mr. Bush leaves office.

There’s a powerful political faction in this country that’s determined to draw exactly the wrong lesson from the Katrina debacle — namely, that the government always fails when it attempts to help people in need, so it shouldn’t even try. “I don’t want the people who ran the Katrina cleanup to manage our health care system,” says Mitt Romney, as if the Bush administration’s practice of appointing incompetent cronies to key positions and refusing to hold them accountable no matter how badly they perform — did I mention that Mr. Chertoff still has his job? — were the way government always works.

And I’m not sure that faction is losing the argument. The thing about conservative governance is that it can succeed by failing: when conservative politicians mess up, they foster a cynicism about government that may actually help their cause.

Future historians will, without doubt, see Katrina as a turning point. The question is whether it will be seen as the moment when America remembered the importance of good government, or the moment when neglect and obliviousness to the needs of others became the new American way.

DAVID BROOKS: Go West, Old Man

Every year we go to the beach, and every year it becomes more obvious that beach vacations are a metaphor for the human predicament. For while in his soul the contemporary man seeks to realize the loftiness of his essential nature, in actual life he finds himself whacking a ball against the windmill arm in an eternal game of mini-golf.

Middle-aged man seeks the spiritual grandeur of a mountain vacation, but is trapped in the saltwater taffy of a beach vacation. He seeks to ride a dude ranch horse among whispering pines and timberline silences, but society is structured such that he finds himself in a piercingly loud ski-ball arcade surrounded by “Party Like a Rock Star” T-shirts and eating a funnel cake.

Not that there is anything wrong with funnel cake. It is the only food left that hasn’t been captured by the Alice Waters/Whole Foods set.

Nobody is making organic, locally grown, zero-carbon-footprint funnel cake.

Still, man seeks something more. And so I repeat my theme: No decliningly virile American man should be content with a beach vacation when a mountain vacation is more in keeping with his inner longing. No middle-aged man of a certain girth should be wearing bathing trunks around adolescents when he could be wearing riding chaps around livestock.

We all, you see, have two summer selves.

Our greater summer self is the mountain self, which is spiritually and physically robust, in a Robert Redford/Horse Whisperer sort of way. Our lesser self is our beach self, which is a banal bimbo-ized version of the person we think we are.

Our beach self munches on cheese fries while browsing through “You Were Better-Looking on MySpace” T-shirts along boardwalks that are basically strip malls of unnecessary objects. Our beach self suffers from sandzheimers syndrome, which is manifested by the tendency to spend hours staring at oncoming waves while making scientific observations like, “Here comes a big one.”

Our beach self is ruled by a spiritual Gresham’s law — every aspiration becomes three degrees trashier than it used to be.

Once, kids were lobbying for a pet dog. Now they are lobbying for a pet hermit crab.

Once, adults were hoarding blue-chip stocks. Now they are hoarding 4,500 video arcade prize tickets in hopes of getting a dayglo Megadeth poster.

It even infects northern Europeans. It was on beaches there that I first came across the menace of Belgian cultural hegemony — the tendency to take everything erotically charged and make it boring. For it is on northern European beaches that middle-aged burghers unaccountably strip off their clothes. If you want to do permanent damage to your libido, go watch 1,000 aging Germans eat bratwurst naked on the beach.

If Vincent van Gogh had taken beach vacations, we wouldn’t have the masterpieces dotting the museums of the world. Instead, van Gogh would have discovered body surfing. He would have concluded, without any actual evidence, that he was really good at body surfing. He would have imagined that people along the shore were admiring his form as he got pounded into the sand. Instead of “Bedroom at Arles,” we’d have a pale guy nursing a piña colada and showing off his chest abrasions.

I think it was Abraham Joshua Heschel — after he broke off with Reinhold Niebuhr and formed Jefferson Airplane — who observed that though the ancients counseled, “Know Thyself,” in 87 percent of actual cases, profound self-knowledge is not transforming. It’s just disappointing.

And this is never more true than when the beach self takes over. There is a boardwalk game near where we vacation where you roll balls into holes to try to get your mechanical horse across a track faster than your 11 opponents. You pay a dollar a game and if you win you get a stuffed horse worth 75 cents. My beach self has played that game for 15 years, and I have never once gotten up without secretly wishing I was playing again.

In my heart, I’d be happy to play that game 11 hours a day at the cost of several thousand dollars, and the only thing preventing me is that the Slovakian girl behind the counter might conclude that American men are pathetic.

Is this really the way we want to spend the summers of our lives? Am I going to spend every August of my declining years sitting on broiling sands feeling inferior to the lifeguards? In fact, probably.

It’s the human predicament.

Gates Not Informed Of New $50 Billion Iraq Funding Request

Think Progress

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that President Bush will soon request an additional $50 billion from Congress for the war in Iraq. The request, which is expected to be made after Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testify to Congress about Iraq, “appears to reflect the view in the administration” that Bush’s escalation strategy “will last into the spring of 2008 and will not be shortened by Congress.”

On Fox News’ Special Report last night, host Brit Hume revealed that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was unaware of the White House’s plans. “A Pentagon spokesman said Defense Secretary Gates saw the published report this morning and said, quote, ‘this is news to me,’” reported Hume.

Gates’ admission of being out of the loop on the funding request coincides with a report by McClatchy that military brass are trying to “distance themselves” from the President on Iraq strategy:

The Pentagon said Wednesday that it won’t make a single, unified recommendation to President Bush during next month’s strategy assessment, but instead will allow top commanders to make individual presentations. […]

Military analysts called the move unusual for an institution that ordinarily does not air its differences in public, especially while its troops are deployed in combat.

“The professional military guys are going to the non-professional military guys and saying ‘Resolve this,’” said Jeffrey White, a military analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “That’s what it sounds like.”

White said it suggests that the military commanders want to be able to distance themselves from Iraq strategy by making it clear that whatever course is followed is the president’s decision, not what commanders agreed on.

The White House’s marginalization of the Pentagon comes on the heels of a report that Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff, will recommend reducing “the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half.” Gates’ position on continuing the escalation “is not known, but he was a member of the Iraq Study Group, which advocated a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.”

Additionally, the marginalization of the Pentagon on Iraq by the administration is not a new development. In December, when the White House was first discussing an escalation, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were in “unanimous disagreement” with the administration, arguing that “any short-term mission” would create “bigger problems when it ends.”

Bush Puts Iran in Crosshairs

By Ray McGovern
August 30, 2007

Not another warning about war with Iran! Well, suck it up. President George W. Bush’s speech Tuesday makes clear his plan to attack Iran, and how the intelligence, as was the case before the attack on Iraq, is being “fixed around the policy.”

It’s not about putative Iranian “weapons of mass destruction” — not even ostensibly. It is about the requirement for a scapegoat for U.S. reverses in Iraq, and the felt need to create a casus belli by provoking Iran in such a way as to “justify” armed retaliation — perhaps extending to an attempt to destroy its nuclear-related facilities.

Bush’s Aug. 28 speech to the American Legion came five years after a very similar presentation by Vice President Dick Cheney. Addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Aug. 26, 2002, Cheney set the meretricious terms of reference for war on Iraq.

Sitting on the same stage that evening was former CENTCOM commander Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who was being honored at the VFW convention. Zinni later said he was shocked to hear a depiction of intelligence (Iraq has WMD and is amassing them to use against us) that did not square with what he knew. Although Zinni had retired two years before, his role as consultant had enabled him to stay up to date on key intelligence findings.

“There was no solid proof that Saddam had WMD...I heard a case being made to go to war,” Zinni told Meet the Press three and a half years later.

(Zinni is a straight shooter with considerable courage, and so the question lingers: why did he not go public? It is all too familiar a conundrum at senior levels and, almost always, the result comes out badly. It is a safe bet he regrets letting himself be guided by a misguided professional courtesy and/or slavish adherence to classification restrictions, when he might have prevented our country from starting the kind of war of aggression branded at Nuremberg as the “supreme international crime.”)

Zinni was not the only one taken aback by Cheney’s words. Then-CIA Director George Tenet says Cheney’s speech took him completely by surprise. In his memoir, Tenet wrote, “I had the impression that the president wasn’t any more aware than we were of what his number-two was going to say to the VFW until he said it.”

Yet, it could have been anticipated. Just five weeks before, Tenet himself had told his British counterpart that the president had decided to make war on Iraq for regime change and that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

When Bush’s senior advisers came back to town after Labor Day, 2002, the next five weeks were devoted to selling the war, a major “new product” of the kind that, as then-White House chief of staff Andy Card explained, no one would introduce in the month of August.

After assuring themselves that Tenet was a reliable salesman, Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld allowed him to play a supporting role in advertising bogus yellowcake uranium from Niger, aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment, and mobile trailers for manufacturing biological warfare agents, in order to scare Congress into voting for war. It did on Oct. 10 and 11, 2002.

Well, this week, aware or not, it was the president himself who mouthed the “new product”—war with Iran—and, in the process, made clear how “fixed” intelligence is being arrayed to “justify” it.

The case is too clever by half, but the Bush/Cheney team is clearly hoping the product will sell.

Iran’s Nuclear Plans

It has been like waiting for Godot...the endless wait for the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear plans.

That NIE turns out to be the quintessential dog that didn’t bark. The most recent published NIE on the subject was issued two-and-a-half years ago and concluded that Iran could not have a nuclear weapon until “early- to mid-next decade.”

That estimate followed a string of NIEs dating back to 1995, which predicted, with embarrassing consistency, that Iran was “within five years” of having a nuclear weapon.

The most recent NIE, published in early 2005, extended the timeline and provided still more margin for error. Basically, the timeline was moved 10 years out to 2015, but a fit of caution yielded the words “early-to-mid next decade.”

On Feb. 27, 2007, at his confirmation hearings to be Director of National Intelligence, Michael McConnell repeated that formulation verbatim.

A “final” draft of the follow-up NIE mentioned above had been completed in February 2007, and McConnell no doubt was briefed on its findings prior to his testimony.

The fact that that this draft has been sent back for revision every other month since February speaks volumes. Judging from McConnell’s testimony based on the NIE draft of February, its judgments are probably not alarmist enough for Vice President Dick Cheney. (Shades of Iraq.)

It is also a safe bet that last December the newly confirmed defense secretary, Robert Gates, was taken to the woodshed by the avuncular Cheney, when Gates suggested to Congress that Iran’s motivation in seeking a nuclear weapon would be deterrence:

“While they [the Iranians] are certainly pressing, in my opinion, for a nuclear capability, I think they would see it in the first instance as a deterrent. They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons—Pakistan to the east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west, and us in the Persian Gulf.”

Apparently, the newly minted secretary of defense hadn’t gotten Cheney’s memo.

Unwelcome News (to the White House)

There they go again—those bureaucrats at the International Atomic Energy Agency. On Aug. 28, the very day Bush was playing up the dangers from Iran, the IAEA released a note of understanding between the IAEA and Iran on the key issue of inspection. The IAEA declared:

“The agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of the declared nuclear materials at the enrichment facilities in Iran and has therefore concluded that it remains in peaceful use.”

The IAEA deputy director announced that the plan just agreed to by the IAEA and Iran will enable closure by December on the nuclear issues that the IAEA began investigating in 2003.

Other IAEA officials now express confidence that they will be able to detect any military diversion or any uranium enrichment above a low grade, as long as the Iran-IAEA safeguard agreement remains intact.

Shades of the preliminary findings of the very intrusive U.N. inspections conducted in Iraq in early 2003 before the U.S. warned the U.N. in mid-March to withdraw its inspectors, lest they be shocked-and-awed.

Vice President Cheney can claim, as he did three days before the attack on Iraq, that the IAEA is simply “wrong.” But Cheney’s credibility has sunk to prehistoric levels; witness the fact that the president himself was enlisted to address the Iranian nuclear threat this time around. And he did it with new words.

President’s New Formulation

Did you notice the care that President Bush took to read the exact words of the new formulation on Iran’s nuclear intentions? Not only did he pronounce “nuclear” correctly, he faithfully articulated an altered formula (see below).

The wording suggests to me that the White House has concluded that the “nuclear threat” from Iran is “a dog that won’t hunt,” as Lyndon Johnson might have put it.

The latest news from the IAEA is, for the White House, an extra hurdle. And there is always the possibility that some patriotic truth-teller will make available to the press the judgments of the latest draft NIE on Iran’s nuclear capability.

Or a new Gen. Zinni-type figure might decide to speak out from the Pentagon to head off another unnecessary war.

It is just too much of a stretch to suggest that Iran could be a nuclear threat to the United States within the next 17 months, and that’s all the time Bush and Cheney have got to honor their open pledge to Israel to eliminate Iran’s nuclear potential.

Besides, some American Jewish groups, increasingly concerned over a backlash if young Americans are seen to have been asked to fight and die to eliminate perceived threats to Israel (but not to the U.S.), have been urging the White House to back off the nuclear-threat rationale for war on Iran.

This is how the president put it on Aug. 28:

“Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.”

Press reporting has focused on the rhetorical flourish “under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.” But, in my view, it is the earlier part of the sentence that is most significant.

It is quite a different formulation from earlier Bush rhetoric charging categorically that Iran is “pursuing nuclear weapons,” including this (erroneous) comment at a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in early August:

“This [Iran] is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon.”

The (Very) Bad News

Bush and Cheney have clearly decided to use alleged Iranian interference in Iraq as the preferred casus belli. And the charges, whether they have merit or not, have become much more bellicose. Thus, Bush on Aug. 28:

“Iran’s leaders...cannot escape responsibility for aiding attacks against coalition forces...The Iranian regime must halt these actions. And until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops. I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities.”

How convenient: two birds with one stone. Someone to blame for our losses in Iraq, and “justification” to confront the ostensible source of the problem.

Vice President Cheney has reportedly been pushing for military retaliation against Iran if the U.S. finds hard evidence of Iranian complicity in supporting the “insurgents” in Iraq.

Again, President Bush on Aug. 28:

“Recently, coalition forces seized 240-millimeter rockets that had been manufactured in Iran this year and that had been provided to Iraqi extremist groups by Iranian agents. The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased in the last few months...” QED

Recent U.S. actions, like arresting Iranian officials in Iraq—eight were abruptly kidnapped and held briefly in Baghdad on Aug. 28, the day Bush addressed the American Legion—suggest an intention to provoke Iran into some kind of action that would justify “coalition” retaliation.

The evolving rhetoric suggests that the most likely targets at this point would be training facilities inside Iran—some 20 targets that are within range of U.S. cruise missiles already in place.

Iranian retaliation would be inevitable, and escalation likely.

It strikes me as shamelessly ironic that the likes of our current ambassador at the U.N., Zalmay Khalilizad, one of the architects of U.S. policy toward the area, is now warning publicly that the current upheaval in the Middle East could bring another world war.

Bottom Line

In my view, air strikes on Iran are inevitable, unless grassroots America can arrange a backbone transplant for Congress.

The House needs to begin impeachment proceedings without delay. These, in turn, could possibly give our senior military leaders second thoughts about unleashing the dogs of wider war.

Rabies shots recommended: for this time those dogs can, and will, come back and bite us.

Yes, some of us have been saying that for many months. The deterioration of the U.S. position in Iraq; the perceived need for a scapegoat; the continuing deference given to perceived Israeli security concerns; and the fact that time is running out for the Bush/Cheney administration to end Iran’s nuclear program together make a volatile mix.

Ray McGovern, a member of the American Legion, was an Army infantry/intelligence officer in the sixties. He then served as an analyst with CIA and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He currently works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. His e-mail is

Iran accepts fresh nuclear plan


The UN nuclear watchdog says Iran has agreed to a plan aimed at clearing up questions about its controversial nuclear activities.

The IAEA says the development is "significant", but adds that for the plan to work, it is essential to get full and active co-operation from Iran.

It also says Iran is continuing its enrichment programme, but at a slower pace than before, despite UN sanctions.

Western powers fear Iran could try to make nuclear arms, which Tehran denies.

They have warned Iran is playing for time and should halt its programme immediately to avoid further UN sanctions.

The UN Security Council has already imposed two rounds of sanctions against Iran over the nuclear row.

Plan condemned

In a confidential report, a copy of which was obtained by the BBC, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the work plan it had agreed with Iran to clear up key questions about its past nuclear activities was a "significant step forward".

But it added: "Once Iran's past nuclear programme has been clarified, Iran would need to continue to build confidence about the scope and nature of its present and future nuclear programme."

It said it was essential for Iran to stick to the agreed timeline.

The report said some issues such as Iran's plutonium experiments had been resolved and that it was hoping to have answers to other questions in the next few months.

The IAEA's work plan with Iran has been sharply criticised by a number of Western diplomats, says the BBC's Bethany Bell in Vienna, where the agency is based.

They accuse Iran of playing for time, delaying the imposition of further UN sanctions while increasing its nuclear capabilities.

And they have expressed concern that Iran is still enriching uranium in defiance of the Security Council.

Leaked U.S. GAO report: Iraq is failing

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- A leaked U.S. Government Accountability Office draft report disputes recent White House claims of progress in Iraq, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

The report, which the Post described as "strikingly negative," noted how Iraq has passed only three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress and how the number of attacks on Iraqi civilians hasn't changed.

The draft also said it was unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds as promised, the newspaper said.

The person who gave the draft report to the Post said it was done out of concern its pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version after editing at the Defense Department.

It is due to be presented to Congress on Tuesday.

The White House is also preparing its own status report in the second week of September, along with congressional testimony from U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.

Texan is jailed as illegal immigrant

Star Telegram

A native Texan spent the night in the Arlington Jail, missed her children's first day of school and feared being deported after authorities mistook her for an illegal immigrant.

Alicia Rodriguez, an accountant and mother of three, has the same name and date of birth as a woman deported to Mexico three times.

"I was told I was waiting for an [immigration] officer or Border Patrol officer to interview me and then move me to another location. It was very scary," the Mansfield woman said.

Arlington and federal immigration officials say they made a mistake and apologized.

"This is very unusual," Arlington police spokeswoman Christy Gilfour said "We're not aware of this having happened before. We do realize that this is unfortunate, and we do regret that we made an error."

Gilfour said police overlooked fingerprints that would have shown Rodriguez was not the illegal immigrant.

Rodriguez said she does not plan to sue, but apologies do not make up for what she was put through.

"I think it's ridiculous. I think it was obvious that I wasn't an illegal immigrant," she said......

New Surveillance Photo Of Sen. Craig Soliciting Under-Cover Cop

GAIL COLLINS: Men’s Room Chronicles

It is time for Republicans to start asking themselves whether there’s something about ceremonial leadership positions that causes their colleagues to collapse under stress.

Larry Craig was co-chair of the U.S. Senate Mitt Romney for President campaign until the recent unpleasantness caused him to resign. Senator David Vitter, the Southern regional chair of Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign, got caught with his name on the D.C. Madam’s rolodex. The state representative who was titular head of John McCain for President in Florida was charged with soliciting sex in the men’s room of a public park. And then there was the South Carolina state treasurer who was chairman of his state’s Giuliani chapter until he got indicted on a drug charge.

Does lending one’s name to a Republican presidential campaign create an irresistible impulse to misbehave? Or is this the sort of job people only undertake when they feel a secret need to do penance?

When it comes to conservative Republicans’ explanations for how they came to be arrested in a public men’s room ....

(How often, really, do you start a sentence like that?)

... Craig’s claim that nothing happened, but that the Idaho Statesman made him so nervous he accidentally pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, was not exactly convincing. Still, it was an improvement over Bob Allen, the arrested Florida state representative and McCain backer. Allen claimed he offered to perform a sex act on an undercover officer because, as the only white man in the restroom, he felt he was in danger of being robbed.

The nation’s first famous-political-name-caught-in-a-men’s-room incident occurred in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson’s confidential assistant, Walter Jenkins, was arrested in the bathroom of the Washington Y.M.C.A. A shocked press corps theorized that Jenkins, a family man, must have been driven to uncharacteristic behavior by his slave-driving boss. “A psychiatric breakdown under the strain,” concluded Theodore White. Jenkins, who had actually been arrested once before at the same spot, told the F.B.I. that he had only been involved in those two incidents — but that if there had been any others “he would have been under the influence of alcohol and in a state of fatigue and would not remember them.”

Now, of course, we understand that people’s sexual impulses do not switch gears because they have been under a lot of pressure at work. The only possible reaction to watching Craig say “I am not gay” over and over had to be pity for the man and his unhappy family. The Republicans, however, are not in the mood to have a thoughtful discussion about how much the demonization of homosexuality tortures God-fearing conservatives who find their sexual impulses at war with the party line. Or to sponsor an interesting debate on whether a man who pleads guilty to waving his hand under a toilet stall is worse than a man who, say, once pleaded guilty to drunken driving. John McCain has called for Craig’s resignation. The party’s Senate leadership, having finally found a use for the Ethics Committee, has ordered up an investigation. (Thank heavens we didn’t distract them with Ted Stevens’s finances.)

Mitt Romney absolutely raced to condemn his former campaign committee luminary. Really, it was a good thing that when word about Craig first came out there weren’t any small children or elderly people between him and the nearest microphone. Romney not only wanted to distance himself from anything involving the term “he said-he said,” he was also fighting the whole school of thought that discounts the importance of a candidate’s private behavior. As the only leading Republican candidate for president who is still on his first wife, Romney wants private behavior way, way up there at the top of the list.

“The most important thing we expect from elected — an elected official is a level of dignity and character that we can point to our kids and our grandkids and say, ‘Hey, someday I hope you grow up and you’re someone like that person,’ ” he told Larry Kudlow on MSNBC. “And we’ve seen disappointment in the White House, and we’ve seen it in the Senate. We’ve seen it in Congress. And, frankly, it’s disgusting.”

People, have you ever in your life pointed to your kids or grandkids and said that you hoped they grew up to be like Larry Craig? Or Bill Clinton? Or Mitt Romney? No. You might hope they were as politically skillful as Clinton or as financially successful as Romney or as ... um, good at barbershop quartet singing as Larry Craig. We do not hire our elected officials to shape our children’s characters. We want them to pass good laws and make sensible decisions on our behalf. If something terrible happens, we want to feel that they are strong enough to get us through it. But we have very little investment in whether they’re faithful to their wives, or even whether they’re tortured by demons of sexual confusion.

Although if it involves men’s rooms, we would really rather not hear about it.

ROGER COHEN: A Return to the Mother of Conflicts


The sources of global frustration with the Bush administration have been many and varied, but its refusal over several years to get serious about the Israel-Palestine conflict has ranked high. To dream some path led from Baghdad to Jerusalem was always upside-down foolishness.

So President George W. Bush’s discovery last month that “Iraq is not the only pivotal matter in the Middle East” was encouraging, as was his tacit relegation of the “road map” to nowhere. The Bush endgame, like Clinton’s, is going to see a push for a resolution of the mother of all conflicts.

R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, told me a “supreme effort to help Israelis and Palestinians define a framework for Palestinian statehood” is to be made. “We don’t rule out Palestinian statehood, certainly not, within the term of this presidency,” he said.

The convocation of a conference in the United States in November ups the ante and demonstrates that the incremental has been supplanted by a thrust for the finish line.

Is this just a hopeless lunge for the history books from a lame-duck administration undone by Iraq? Bush, swagger stripped, is weak. Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, may be even weaker. The Palestinians are split, the region radicalized by Iran rising and Iraq fissuring.

But low expectations are a diplomat’s ally. It may seem foolish to speak of exhaustion in a conflict with such proven regenerative capacity. Yet that is what a senior U.S. official found recently in the region, alongside a conviction that “it’s time to change the Israeli-Arab equation.”

In fact, that equation has already changed. The Palestinian national movement and global jihadism are distinct, but to the extent the former has been permeated by the latter it has redoubled the determination of Palestinian pragmatists like President Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, to deliver.

Regular Abbas-Olmert meetings of late are one sign of this. The Israelis like Fayyad, a manager and doer. Radicalizing currents are such that people see “this opportunity may not materialize again,” Burns argued.

Another shift involves Iran’s growing influence — in Shia-dominated Iraq, in Lebanon through Hezbollah and in Gaza through Hamas. The Shia crescent makes Sunni states jumpy. Israel is Iran’s enemy. The enemy of an enemy can be a friend.

“Most, if not all the Sunni countries, see Iran as disturbing, unhelpful and violent,” Burns told me. “It’s a hard question whether they now see Iran as more dangerous than Israel. But most of these states understand that Israel is not a threat to them while Iran might be.”

To coax Gulf countries to reach out to Israel — a Saudi presence with Israel at the November conference is a core U.S. strategic aim — the United States is readying a multibillion-dollar military aid package for them. It needs Congressional approval that will not come easily.

The package “says to the Iranians and Syrians that the United States is the major power in the Middle East and will continue to be and is not going away,” Burns said. It is designed to strengthen Sunni allies and bolster their conventional deterrence against Iran.

Unlike Clinton in 2000, who tried to coax Yasir Arafat to compromise and hoped Middle Eastern states would follow, Bush is trying to capitalize on Sunni unease to get the region to reinforce the Abbas-Fayyad peace push.

The other side of this approach is confrontation with Tehran. Burns argues there is no other strategic choice if Iran continues to enrich uranium and embrace terrorists.

The price, however, will be Iranian use of surrogates to attempt to sink in blood any Israeli-Palestinian progress. Why not quietly expand existing contacts with Iran in Baghdad to cover all issues?

A decisive political contest has begun. The United States must deliver by November or its conference will be a farce that only feeds the sophisticated Iranian propaganda machine.

Delivering means Saudis at the same table as Israelis: de facto, if not de jure, recognition. It means enough hammering on Israel’s “occupation” — Bush’s word — to enable Abbas-Fayyad to get the West Bank economy moving.

It means sufficient progress on territorial compromise and the principles governing the thorniest issues — Jerusalem and refugees — for Palestinians in Gaza to wonder if they are missing the statehood express.

The Bush administration, in its uncritical war-on-terror embrace of Israel, contributed to Palestinian hopelessness on which Hamas thrived. It can undo that damage only by ushering in hope.

You are invited to comment at my blog:

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pentagon won't make surge recommendation to Bush

WASHINGTON — In a sign that top commanders are divided over what course to pursue in Iraq , the Pentagon said Wednesday that it won't make a single, unified recommendation to President Bush during next month's strategy assessment, but instead will allow top commanders to make individual presentations.

"Consensus is not the goal of the process," Geoff Morrell , a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters. "If there are differences, the president will hear them."

Military analysts called the move unusual for an institution that ordinarily does not air its differences in public, especially while its troops are deployed in combat.

"The professional military guys are going to the non-professional military guys and saying 'Resolve this,'" said Jeffrey White , a military analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy . "That's what it sounds like."......

This sounds like a cheap/bad Porno ...

The Idaho Statesmen learned of this in the spring but decided not to publish it because it was based on an anonymous source. In light of recent events it decided to publish the story.

=A 40-year-old professional man with close ties to Republican officials told the Idaho Statesman he had oral sex with Sen. Larry Craig at Washington's Union Station, probably in 2004.==

==Here is what the man told the Statesman, with some of the details of the men's room encounter edited out:

"Upon walking into Union Station one day, I made eye contact with a well-dressed older gentleman whom I recognized as Sen. Craig. We, after having made eye contact for 30 seconds or so, we began walking towards one of the restrooms in Union Station.

"I followed him in there. We went to the urinals, where we both unzipped ...

"The restroom became busy, too busy to do anything. So we zipped up and then followed each other to the second restroom in Union Station, where we began the same process. And had a -- I also performed fellatio for a very, very short amount of time, as that restroom became busy as well. At that point we both zipped up and left and went on our separate ways.==

U.S. Weapons, Given to Iraqis, Move to Turkey


Weapons that were originally given to Iraqi security forces by the American military have been recovered over the past year by the authorities in Turkey after being used in violent crimes in that country, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The discovery that serial numbers on pistols and other weapons recovered in Turkey matched those distributed to Iraqi police units has prompted growing concern by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that controls on weapons being provided to Iraqis are inadequate. It was also a factor in the decision to dispatch the department’s inspector general to Iraq next week to investigate the problem, the officials said.

Pentagon officials said they did not yet have evidence that Iraqi security forces or Kurdish officials were selling or giving the weapons to Kurdish separatists, as Turkish officials have contended.

It was possible, they said, that the weapons had been stolen or lost during firefights and smuggled into Turkey after being sold in Iraq’s extensive black market for firearms. Officials gave widely varied estimates — from dozens to hundreds — of how many American-supplied weapons had been found in Turkey.......

Report on political, military benchmarks comes ahead of Sept. 15 deadline

Associated Press

Congressional auditors have determined that the Iraqi government has failed to meet the vast majority of political and military goals laid out by lawmakers to assess President Bush's Iraq war strategy, The Associated Press has learned.

The Government Accountability Office, or GAO, will report that at least 13 of the 18 benchmarks to measure the surge of U.S. troops to Iraq are unfulfilled ahead of a Sept. 15 deadline for Bush to give a detailed accounting of the situation eight months after he announced the policy, according to three officials familiar with the matter.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been made public, also said the administration is preparing a case to play down its findings, arguing that Congress ordered the GAO to use unfair, "all or nothing" standards when compiling the document.

The GAO is to give a classified briefing about its findings to lawmakers on Thursday. It is not yet clear when its unclassified report will be released but it is due Sept. 1 amid a series of assessments called for in January legislation that authorized Bush's plan to send 30,000 more troops to Iraq, where there is now a total of more than 160,000 troops.

No Private Idaho

In its second editorial about Sen. Larry Craig, the Idaho Statesman editorial page remains unsatisfied with Craig’s explanation of what exactly happened in that men’s room: “Craig shed little new light Tuesday on his arrest and guilty plea; he did not provide Idahoans with the full account they deserve.”

Noting Craig’s “rhetoric and record on social and gay-rights issues,” the editorial says that “Craig’s political mess is one of his own making.” It continues:

And the least of Craig’s problems may be with the gay-rights activists who have taken to the blogosphere to call him a hypocrite. A bigger problem may be with the Idaho social conservatives who have been among the quickest to call for his resignation.

And when politicians try to turn social and sexual issues into fair political game, they invite scrutiny of their behavior. Craig did not establish these rules of political engagement, but he operated under them.

Chris Suellentrop

Harriet Miers, the Sequel

Harriet Miers, the next attorney general? Kevin Shay, guest-blogging for Daniel Radosh at Radosh’s blog, says Miers’s nomination is foreordained: “I mean, it works on so many levels,” Shay, a former Web editor for McSweeney’s, writes. “A) It passes the SPM test: Can you imagine a Stupider Possible Move? I didn’t think so. That’s always been a reliable predictor of this administration’s actions. B) It’s a great way to spit in the face of the hardcore 27% of voters who still inexplicably support you. C) She’s owed.”

  • Was “The Simpsons Movie” actually a searing family drama? Ezra Klein explains:

    It was a film during which the lead female character realized her husband was a senseless brute who would always put his happiness before her own, and where her son realized the father was an abusive drunk who was continually denying him the emotional support and family environment he needed. And unlike in most [Simpsons] episodes, both characters recognized these truths fully, and abandoned Homer to begin new lives elsewhere. And shortly thereafter, both took him back, tossing away their opportunities for personal growth and fulfillment despite there being no evidence of an enduring change in their tormentor’s psyche. It was a tremendous demonstration of the self-destructive mentality of the abused, and in that, quite unsettling.

  • Annals of things you can’t make up: The American Prospect’s Garance Franke-Ruta, writing on her personal blog,, digs through the case history of sexual solicitation in public restrooms. Her best discovery is the name of an Idaho decision that “ruled that (solo) masturbation within an enclosed restroom stall was constitutionally protected behavior as the individual within the stall had a reasonable expectation of privacy within the stall.” The case: State v. Limberhand.

    As commenter Matt Zeitlin observes in the post’s discussion thread, “Guys, let’s not lose sight of what’s important here, the dude’s name was Limberhand! Maybe it’s the 17 year old boy in me, but how can everyone not find this [gut-bustingly] hilarious?”

    Chris Suellentrop


    Louisiana Calling

    On the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrinia, the editorial page of The New Orleans Times-Picayune headlines its lead editorial, “Treat us fairly, Mr. President.”

    “Nobody wants to have to compete for disaster relief,” the editorial begins. “But that is what Louisianians have had to do in the two years since Hurricane Katrina struck.” It continues:

    Despite massive destruction caused by the failure of the federal government’s levees during Katrina, despite the torment caused by FEMA’s slow response to the disaster, despite being hit by a second powerful hurricane less than a month later, Louisiana has had to plead to be treated fairly by our leaders in Washington.

    “Louisiana’s losses were dramatically higher than any other state’s and thus deserving of greater compensation,” the editorial later adds. “In reality, Mississippi has gotten a larger share of federal aid.” It explains:

    Louisiana had three times more damaged homes and seven times more severely damaged homes than Mississippi. Universities in this state had three times as many students displaced and had four times the losses of Mississippi’s campuses. Louisiana fisheries suffered almost 75 percent of the damage done by Katrina, and our hospitals lost 97 percent of the hospital beds closed by the storm.

    Yet in every case, Mississippi ended up with a disproportionate share of aid. Housing grants, for instance: Mississippi got $5.5 billion in Community Development Block Grant money for its 61,000 damaged homes. Louisiana, with 204,000 damaged homes, got $10.4 billion. If the aid were given out proportionately, this state would have gotten twice that much.

    “All Louisiana wants is to be treated fairly. But that hasn’t happened,” the editorial later adds. It also says, “The people of Louisiana are no less deserving of disaster aid because their representatives are newer to Congress or because some of the people we trusted to lead us turned out to be scoundrels.”

    Chris Suellentrop